April 25-30, 2006 - Isla Grande de Chiloé

Today we awoke in the small fishing village of Chacao, parked on the side of the central square.  As usual, nobody bothered us and we had a pleasant night "city camping".  After a short walk around the small central area, we continued our drive south through the heart of Isla Grande de Chiloe.  Chiloe used to be a subsistence fishing and farming community with small businesses but with the advent of fish farms, big business has come in and changed the face of the community. This is a controversial development for them as many say that the change is detrimental to the traditional way of life on the island.  

We headed toward Ancud, the first large community along the highway.  We passed small farms, all of which seemed to have dairy cows, and who had left large milk canisters in racks along the road to be picked up.  By whom we weren't sure, or how do they get the proper credit and payment - unanswered questions.  Apparently the production of milk is also an important industry.  Arriving in Ancud we parked and wandered around town admiring the many wood-shingled buildings that Chiloe is famous for.  There were many different styles and colors and they reflected the uniqueness of their owners.  (See Shingle Pattern Photos) We then stopped in the municipal market, had a fantastic fish soup for lunch and picked up some homemade cheese.  We also noticed that the produce for sale was unusually large.  We don't know if its the growing conditions or what, but they had carrots the size of footballs!

We continued on to the capital of Chiloe, Castro.  There we admired the "palafitos", buildings built on stilts over water, that are now protected as historical monuments.  In the past these were the homes of the fishermen who would dock their boats right at their homes. There used to be more of these unique buildings, but the tsunami in 1960 washed many of them away.  None of the palafitos in Ancud survived.

The next day we traveled by ferry across to another island in the archipelago called Isla Quinchao.  We were the first vehicle on the ferry and we drove head first onto it like we have all the other ferries we've been on.  Then we noticed that everyone else backed on, hmmm.  After we were underway, realized that there was only one way on and off, rather than the two ended ferries we were used to.  Either way we were going to need to back up.  Fortunately when we reached the other side, there was enough room for us to back off the ferry and turn around.  

On the island we saw many more examples of the wood-shingled buildings and of the more than 150 wooden churches that dot the islands.  Again we had a fabulous lunch of the biggest oysters and mussels that we have ever seen.  While we enjoyed our lunch, we watched the local fishermen waiting for boats to take them out to the salmon farms.  They were all dressed in foul weather gear and rubber boots.  Must be a wet way to make a living.

On the return trip on the ferry, we backed on like everybody else, which was good because when we reached the other side, there wasn't any room to turn around!  We wondered if we should have waited for the next ferry as the motion of the boat was causing water to splash around the sides of the ramp and up to our tires!  We spent the night in a campground between the beach and the highway.  Every time a large truck went by the ground vibrated.  Talk about liquefaction!

The next day we returned back across the Canal de Chacao to continue our trek northward, passing what seemed to be way of life from the past - ox carts hauling firewood.  So far we had been moving slowly and enjoying being back in Chile, but now it was time to cover some miles.  We chose to take the Panamerican Highway and pay the tolls for the privilege of moving quickly on good roads.  We covered a lot of distance and spent the night in a parking lot behind a Carabinero (police) stop.  It was very quiet and we figured, very safe!  When we stopped for fuel, we made a great discovery, some of the gas stations had free wifi internet access!  We had heard that this was a possibility, but were total surprised to find it a fact.

The next morning dawned clear for a change and we got an early start.  Because of the clear weather we decided to take a detour off the highway to try and see the most active volcano in Chile.  Because of bad weather, we had been thwarted in our attempts to view other volcanoes, so we had high hopes for seeing Volcan Villarica.  This volcano is currently active and spews steam most of the time.  It had its last major eruption in 1971 which did a lot of damage to the countryside.  As we got close to the Parque Nacional, the mountain came out from behind the trees.  It was the perfect volcano, with a topping of snow and a plume of steam coming out of the top.  We were absolutely thrilled.  We found a spot for lunch with a great view and watched the scenery change as wisps of clouds went by and the plume of steam changed.  It seemed that the moisture n the clouds would cause the plume to increase each time a cloud passed by.

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The next day we continued north and stopped in the village of Chillán to visit their market.  Saturday is their busiest day, so we made sure to park far enough away to avoid the crowds.  The market was large and very colorful.  Beautiful produce was displayed and was kept wet to look as appealing as possible for the buyer.  Not intending to buy anything, we walked away with armloads of fresh produce.  As we returned to the Fuso, we found that we had made a very smart decision regarding the traffic.  Just one block further and we would have been stuck in stopped-dead traffic.  

We got back on the road and headed toward Chile's most productive wine-making area, the Maule Valley.  We stopped at the Vina Balduzzi and took a tour of the winery.  The Balduzzis began making wine in Italy 300 years ago and brought their winemaking knowledge to Chile 80 years ago.  We enjoyed our tour there. 

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After the winery we drove into the town of Talca to find a place to spend the night.  We discovered that Chilenos like to go out on the town on Saturday night.  Everyone in Talca was walking the streets and traffic was at a standstill. Eventually we made it across town and found a secure parking lot to spend the night.  Talca was very lively all night long so we were glad to be off the street.  

The next morning we decided to drive to a mirador above the city to make breakfast.  While we were admiring the view, two men walked up and started chatting with us.  Gonzalo lives in Talca and is working on becoming an attorney.  His brother Patricio lives in Santiago and is a Captain in the Chilean Air Force. He has spent a lot of time overseas working with the United Nations.  They indicated that their family was gathered in Talca for a few days together.  After laughing and joking for about an hour, Gonzalo invited us back to his home to meet the rest of the family and to have breakfast.  We eagerly accepted and followed the brothers back through the now-deserted streets.  We joined Gonzalo's girlfriend, the brothers' parents and Patricio's daughter for breakfast and spent another couple of hours enjoying Chilean hospitality.  We had a wonderful time but soon it was time to again hit the road.  We continued north on the Panamericana but were soon able to turn off onto smaller back roads where time moves a lot slower.  Along the way we passed many gauchos and even horse drawn carts. Eventually we reached the beach town of Pichilemu where we set up camp on the beach.


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